A recent California Court of Appeal decision, Townley v. BJ’s Restaurants, Inc., has further defined the scope of reimbursable business expenses under California Labor Code section 2802, this time in the context of slip-resistant shoes for restaurant workers.
A former server filed an action under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA), seeking civil penalties on behalf of herself and other “aggrieved employees” for California Labor Code violations, including the failure to reimburse the cost of slip-resistant shoes. Plaintiff alleged a violation of Labor Code section 2802, which requires an employer to reimburse employees for all necessary expenditures incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of their duties.
Plaintiff argued that, because the restaurant required employees to wear slip-resistant, black, closed-toes shoes for safety reasons, such shoes should be provided free of cost or employees should be reimbursed for their cost.
The Court of Appeal, persuaded by the reasoning in an unpublished Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Lemus v. Denny’s, Inc., and guidance from the California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), held that section 2802 did not require the restaurant employer to reimburse its employees for the cost of slip-resistant shoes. Specifically, the Court held that the cost of shoes does not qualify as a “necessary expenditure” under section 2802.
On Monday, March 25, 2019, I had the privilege to co-present on reasonable accommodations and the interactive process under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) at the HR in Hospitality Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the issues covered during our presentation involved the fact that the ADA does not require that employers provide the specific accommodation requested by an employee as long as the employer offers a reasonable accommodation to the employee who made the request. While employers can use their business judgment when deciding how best to reasonably accommodate an employee, a settlement recently announced by the EEOC underscores that many employers would be well-advised to develop internal procedures or guidelines to help ensure that those involved in the accommodation process understand what is expected of them and the company when responding to accommodation requests. According to a lawsuit filed by EEOC in Minnesota, a Bath and Body Works store failed to reasonably accommodation a sales associate with type-1 diabetes suffering retinopathy who asked that a larger monitor screen be placed at the cash register. Instead, a store manager purchased what the EEOC described as “a cheap, hand-held magnifying glass” to be used by the sales associate when working the register.
Under a consent decree settling the suit (EEOC v. Bath and Body Works), Bath and Body Works agreed to pay Continue reading
Pay inequity, particularly compensation disparity based on sex, has become a very prominent political issue in the last decade and it looks like some additional changes could be on the horizon at the federal level. Democrats expressed that pay equity would be a priority in their labor agenda during the 2018 Congressional election cycle and, in February 2019, a proposal intended to further promote fair pay practices was reintroduced in Congress. In addition, just last week, a federal judge lifted the stay on the changes to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) EEO-1 Report. The revised EEO-1 report would require certain employers to provide pay data by sex, race, and ethnicity to the EEOC, allowing it to more easily detect and track impermissible pay differentials. Though at very different stages in their respective lawmaking processes, the proposed law and final regulation are very clearly intended to address pay inequality and provide additional enforcement tools.
Stay Lifted on EEO-1 Report
In August 2017, ahead of the 2018 submission deadline, the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) stayed collection of pay data based on race, ethnicity, and sex to allow it to review the regulation related to the lack of public opportunity to comment on the format of submission of the additional data and burden estimates related to the specific data file format provided. However, on March 4, 2019, a Washington, D.C. federal judge ordered the stay be lifted because she determined that OMB’s decision was arbitrary and capricious – citing unexplained inconsistencies based on its prior approval of the rule and failure to adequately support its decision. Continue reading
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has officially curtailed another controversial interpretation of its dual jobs regulation that has plagued employers for more than decade – i.e. the 20% rule. This is welcome news for the hospitality industry and other employers who employ tipped employees, as the previous rule effectively forced employers to track and monitor the time that tipped employees spent on non-tipped tasks and “related duties.” Although the DOL issued an opinion letter rescinding its interpretation of the 20% rule in November 2018, the DOL’s recent revisions to its Field Operations Handbook has official dispelled lingering concerns about the DOL’s interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act’s dual jobs regulation and potential enforcement of the 20% rule.
The Tip Credit
Under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), employers must pay employees a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Various state wage and hour laws impose higher minimum wage requirements, but employers covered Continue reading
Over the past several years, we have written extensively about employers’ obligations to make their websites accessible for individuals with visual, hearing and physical impairments. In the past, we have counseled employers who are considered a “place of public accommodation” (such as a hotel, restaurant, place of recreation, doctor’s office, etc.) to at the very least do some due diligence to determine whether their websites are accessible for disabled users, so that those individuals can use and navigate those websites and/or purchase goods sold on the websites. (For more information about the developing law on this issue, check out our prior posts here and here.) Now, for the first time, a U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled on this issue and has confirmed that so long as there is a “nexus” between a company’s website and a physical location (which is typically the case), a company must make its website accessible or risk significant legal exposure for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).
(As a reminder, although not the subject of this blog post, we have also written about a second consideration here regarding website accessibility that applies only to hotels and other places of lodging and currently is the subject of a tremendous amount of litigation. Specifically, the implementing regulations of Title III of the ADA require a hotel’s website to provide information regarding various accessibility features at its property, so that a mobility impaired individual can determine whether he or she can navigate the public areas and guestrooms at the property.).
Cybersecurity and digital threats were a hot topic at ALIS Law, a conference for hotel owners and operators, in Los Angeles last month. I had a pleasure of moderating a session on “threats in a digital world” with senior executives from national hotel management and ownership groups. In our session, we discussed what were some of the pressing and most concerning digital threats that kept the hospitality industry up at night. Here are some highlights and take-aways from the session:
- Cybersecurity and hacks from foreign and domestic threats remain a top concern. Many hotels have been engaging in surveillance as one method of cyber protection. It was noted how much the investment in technology to prevent, address, and respond to cybersecurity issues has increased for both owners and operators. While owners may bear the cost on their profit & loss statement, and management companies are putting in policies, owners are adding property specific monitoring. It was discussed that one global hotel company, Hyatt Hotels, recently announced a bug bounty program whereby they will be paying ethical hackers to monitor their systems, including mobile applications, for potential risks and where credible risks or threats are found – the hackers will be compensated – which is a novel approach in the hospitality industry.
- While cybersecurity threats have been a focus, one repeated concern is the threat of harm to a hotel’s reputation due to guests and third parties spreading false information on social media sites, such as LinkedIn, Yelp, and Trip Advisor. To address these concerns, hotel operators talk with their teams daily about the consequences of false information or a bad review and take steps to remove false reviews if possible. Others noted that removing a false review from a site like Trip Advisor can be challenging unless the company is able to prove that the review was posted for criminal reasons or demonstratively false.
- One consequence of a cybersecurity hack beyond the disclosure of guest information is if a hacker was able to secure personal identifiable information of a hotel company’s investors and borrowers. If investors are concerned that a hotel company is not protecting their highly confidential and personal financial information, that would have a significant impact on the reputational harm to the company.
- Some of the best practices that owner and operators have put into place is an incident response plan to respond to a threat. In doing so, a key question is who you need at the table to decide how to move forward (IT / GC / PR / Owner) and what elements do you need to put into place. In addition, implementing policies and procedures on the front end is critical. For example, from an accounting perspective, having controls in place that can protect where the money is going and where it is coming from and ensuring that there are multiple approvals before money is sent out electronically. Finally, training staff on the policies and procedures so that the right people are getting the right information. Managers need to judge and reward staff for compliance with the policies because while a company continue to monitor and audit, training is only effective if compliance is monitored. For example, one company reported conducting more secret shoppers to determine whether someone can drop a flash drive into a front desk computer to tap into the network.
Unfortunately, cybersecurity risks and threats are not going away anytime soon, but with planning and focus on this important issue, hotel owners and operators can get ahead of some of the threats and take control and strong action if a risk materializes.